Tunes for a Monday Morning
Creative alchemy: experience transformed by imagination

The stories in the air around us

Field 1

Last week (in Thursday's post), Susan Cooper talked about inspiration, and where the ideas and themes in her books come from. Today, Ursula K. Le Guin approaches the same subject from a different direction:

"It's a big question -- where do writers get their ideas, where do artists get their visions, where do musicians get their music? It's bound to have a big answer," says Le Guin. "Or a whole lot of them. One of my favorite answers is this: Somebody asked Willie Nelson how he thought up his tunes, and he said, 'The air is full of tunes, I just reach up and pick one.'

"For a fiction writer -- a storyteller -- the world is full of stories, and when story is there, it's there; you just reach up and pick it.

Field 2

Field 3

"Then you have to be able to tell it to yourself.

"First you have to be able to wait. To wait in silence. Listen for the tune, the vision, the story. Not grabbing, not pushing, just waiting, listening, being ready for it when it comes. This is an act of trust. Trust in yourself, trust in the world. The artist says, 'The world will give me what I need and I will be able to use it rightly.'

Field 4

Horse pen

White horse 1

"Readiness -- not grabbiness, not greed -- readiness: willingness to hear, to listen carefully, to see clearly and accurately -- to let the words be right. Not almost right. Right. To know how to make something out of the vision; that's what practice is for. Because being ready doesn't mean just sitting around, even if it looks like that's what most writers do; artists practice their art continually, and writing happens to involve a lot of sitting. Scales and finger exercises, pencil sketches, endless unfinished and rejected stories. The artist who practices knows the difference between practice and performance, and the essential connection between them. The gift of those seemingly wasted hours and years is patience andf readiness; a good ear, a keen eye, a skilled hand, a rich vocabulary and grammar. The gift of practice to the artist is mastery, or a word I like better, 'craft.'

"With those tools, those instruments, with that hard-earned mastery, that craftiness, you do your best to let the 'idea' -- the tune, the vision, the story -- come through clear and undistorted. Clear of ineptitude, awkwardness, amateurishness; undistorted by convention, fashion, opinion.

White horse 2


"This is a very radical job, dealing with the ideas you get if you are an artist and take your job seriously, this shaping a vision into the medium of words. It's what I like to do best in the world, and what I like to talk about when I talk about writing. I could happily go on and on about it. But I'm trying to talk about where the vision, the stuff you work on, the 'idea,' comes from, so:

"The air is full of tunes. A piece of rock is full of statues. The earth is full of visions. The world is full of stories.

"As an artist, you trust that."

White horse 3

Words: The passage above is from "Where Do You Get Your Ideas From?" by Ursula K. Le Guin, a talk for the Portland Arts & Lectures series, October, 2000, published in The World Spit Open (Tin House Books, 2014). The Catheryn Essinger poem in the picture captions is from Poetry magazine, June 1999. All rights reserved by the authors. Pictures: A buttercup field on Nattadon Hill, looking over the valley to Meldon Hill; and the friendly white horse that lives in an enclosure at the base of Meldon.


Receptiveness and the ability to be still and listen to the silent things speaking. Sometimes it feels like spinning painting out of thin air until you realise that you are gathering in the threads of all the little memories and experiences we wrap around ourselves.
A lovely posting Terri. x

I love the both, and separate way you have led us through this post. Ursula Le Guin always has something about story just right for the chewing, and behind the images a surprising version of a tale too tough to tempt my imagination.

Just yesterday

I did not know this was the practice.
Just yesterday I wrote my way through training manuals.
Paid well for content, but oh, no context.

I did not know this was my practice.
Just yesterday I re-read a rambling tale I wrote
Paid little for it, but oh, such context.

I know now my practice.
Just yesterday I wrote a story
Paid for in memories, but oh, much more.

I know my practice.
Just yesterday, he was a boy.
Today he is a man.

Oh yes, this! Exactly so!

Wish I had written this poem!!! Love it.


Nelson Picks

'The air is full of tunes, I just
reach up and pick one.'--Willie Nelson

There is a great chorus in the sky,
A concatenation of song.
A daily meeting, a greeting of tunes.
They open their myriad mouths,
just let out s hoot, a hollar,
an invisible prayer.
The chorus is not there to tempt you,
it is there to fill you with music.
Pick up your spoon, fork, chopsticks.
Pick out your notes.
Join in.

©2017 Jane Yolen all rights reserved

Wow, thanks for the compliment, Jane!! It came full flood on memories of a boy (my nephew) who is now the father to a boy, and a girl.

I like the final invitation, Jane: "Pick up your spoon, fork, chopsticks. Pick out your notes. Join in."

That Willie!!

That Willie Nelson indeed.


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